Joya: AiR / Dana Finch / UK


"I sit and write this in the studio, with its picture window looking out onto a perfect landscape, a low white wall, a row of olive trees, and the terraces of almond trees sloping away up the hill, where they merge with the Aleppo pines on the mountainside.

This evening it has rained, a soft, nourishing rain, much needed, and the land has changed colour, from white to warm brown. I hear it is snowing in Cornwall. I am glad I am away in a desert land.

I walked this morning out into the campo, up past the empty farmhouse, on the white road. The sun was shining and it was warm – I wore a t shirt on the last day of February. The white path took my breath away, literally. I panted and puffed up the hill. Simon told me we are at the same elevation as Snowdon, so it makes sense. A good excuse to sit and rest, and draw the rose-coloured rocks and scrubby plants at the side of the track.

I am not a painter of big vistas, but up there in the pale, clean air I couldn’t help but be drawn to the far views of mountains in every direction. I came to a crossroads, and sat down. I like the places where roads meet – there is a topographical openness, and a sense of possibility. The wind was getting up and blew my hat off, a black oval scuttling across the bright earth while I looked on in dismay. Luckily it was trapped by a helpful thistle and I was able to retrieve it.

I keep looking and looking at the small plants, the tiny spiny structures that grip the dusty soil for dear life. They are so perfect, and so delicate yet incredibly robust. I love their muted colours - pinky brown, pale olive, silver grey. And they are spiky and thorny so I have to be careful where I sit down. Yesterday I got a hand full of thorns.

The walk is circular and from different points along it I can look down and see Cortijada Los Gázquez in the distance, which is a work of art in itself. Low and long and white, with orange-pink tiles and the lone windmill whirring away, it looks like it has grown from the ground. It is a remarkable place, full of warmth, friendship and creativity. I am a painter but came here with no fixed idea of what I would do, beyond make a small film on my iPhone. I thought this would be a film about plants and rocks, but it has become a film about the spirit of the place, and its embodiment in the mysterious dog, Ptolemy.  I have also been painting every day in the studio, writing, and thinking, and most of all, looking. I am here for only one week – not quite enough time, but up here in the hills time is irrelevant. What is important is to be open to all the sensations, impressions, the people, the visual beauty, and the small things – the desert plants, the rocks and the white soil".

5 Books

1 Journey to Ixtlan, Carlos Castaneda

2 Border Trilogy, Cormac McCarthy

3 The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver

4 As I walked out one midsummer morning, Laurie Lee

5 The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner